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Provincial government trying to battle zebra and quagga mussels

Posted on 21 May 2024 by Prairie Post

Alberta’s government is launching a new task force to defend the province from zebra and quagga mussels, and other aquatic invasive species.

Zebra and quagga mussels are not native to Canada and can wreak havoc on ecosystems and infrastructure. Alberta is currently free of invasive mussels; however, if introduced these kinds of aquatic invasive species could cause millions in damage to lakes and waterways. More and more detections are being reported across Canada and the United States, increasing the threat to Alberta.

With growing concerns that invasive mussels could arrive in our province, Alberta is launching the first Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force to identity ways to improve inspection, detection and education so that these dangerous species don’t get established here. This comes after the province already increased the number of inspection stations, added inspectors and called for increased federal action to stop invasive species at the border.

“Boating season hasn’t even started and we’ve already intercepted two boats carrying invasive mussels into Alberta this year. Zebra mussels and other invasive species may be tiny, but they can have massive impacts on our economy and Alberta’s rivers, lakes and waterways. We are taking decisive action by launching this new task force to identify ways to improve protection programs across the province.”

Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas

Zebra and quagga mussels and other aquatic invasive species can be easily and inadvertently introduced, often by the movement of boats and other watercraft across borders. If they become established inside Alberta’s borders, they could spread rapidly, clog waterways, upset lakes and other ecosystems, and cost more than $75 million annually in damages to irrigation infrastructure, according to recent estimates.

The new provincial task force will be led by Grant Hunter, MLA for Taber-Warner. It will work with partners to discuss critical topics like how to improve border protections, and find ways to strengthen the province’s rules and programs. The team will also assess whether stronger penalties, restrictions, additional inspections or other actions are needed to better protect Alberta.

“Our province faces increasing threats from invasive species. By establishing a task force to combine expertise, resources and dedication, we will work more effectively to prevent the spread of invasive species and safeguard the health of our water bodies for generations to come.”

Grant Hunter, MLA for Taber-Warner

The task force will encourage collaboration between partner organizations and provincial programs on aquatic invasive species defense and control strategies, including education and awareness, watercraft inspection and decontamination, monitoring, and the detection, response and management of current and emerging threats.

“For many years, the Alberta Lake Management Society has recognized aquatic invasive species as one of the most immediate threats to our lake ecosystems. This new task force will improve Alberta’s ability to defend against this threat by coordinating key elements of policy, education, monitoring, inspections and response.”

Bradley Peter, executive director, Alberta Lake Management Society

“Alberta’s waterways and the tremendous value they provide are under threat from aquatic invasive species. The establishment of a taskforce to address this pressing issue is a positive step toward protecting Alberta from the impacts of invasive species.”

Megan Evans, executive director, Alberta Invasive Species Council

Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force members:

• Grant Hunter, Chair and MLA for Taber-Warner 

• Martin Shields, Member of Parliament, Bow River 

• Kelly Carter, chief executive officer, Alberta Wildlife Federation 

• Megan Evans, executive director, Alberta Invasive Species Council 

• Dr. Patrick Hanington, associate professor, Environmental Health Sciences, University of Alberta  

• Bradley Peter, executive director, Alberta Lake Management Society 

• Richard Phillips, vice-chair, Alberta Irrigation District 

• Richard Stamp, president, Stamp Seeds 

• Jay White, director, Alberta Water Council 

Quick facts:

• While there is an increasing number of invasive aquatic species of concern, non-native freshwater mussels will be an initial focus for the task force. The task force may expand its approach, as needed, in the future.

• Parks Canada recently announced that it is closing all bodies of water in British Columbia’s Kootenay and Yoho national parks, and restricting watercraft in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park to slow the spread of invasive species.

• In 2023, Alberta inspected 8,818 boats, 19 of which were confirmed positive for invasive mussels.

◦ 17 of the boats came from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

◦ Two of the boats were coming from Michigan and Minnesota. 

◦ 11 of the boats were ultimately heading to final locations in B.C., seven for destinations within Alberta and one for Alaska.

• Watercraft inspections have been mandatory in Alberta since 2015. To minimize risk of moving species among waterbodies, it is illegal to transport a watercraft with the drain plug still in place.

• The 2024 Aquatic Invasive Species Watercraft Inspections and Decontamination Program:

◦ Will operate seven fixed inspection stations and one roving crew during the 2024 boating season.

◦ Will increase the number of dedicated watercraft inspectors to 50, from 35 last year.

◦ Began opening stations in April as seasonal staff were hired and onboarded. All stations will be open for May long weekend through the September long weekend, with many extending beyond this period.

• The Fisheries (Alberta) Act lists 52 prohibited aquatic invasive species including fish, plants and invertebrates, and has the associated powers for inspection and quarantine when required.

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